Time to fret? Jenkins is third Braves’ starter demoted in two months

Atlanta Braves interim manager Brian Snitker (43) holds the ball after Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Tyrell Jenkins, right, was pulled from the game during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016, in Washington. Also seen is Atlanta Braves catcher Anthony Recker at center. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Tyrell Jenkins gets the hook. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Tyrell Jenkins just became the third of the Atlanta Braves’ lovingly assembled young pitchers — the third in two months — to be demoted to Class AAA after being installed in the major-league rotation. As we know, the path of a young pitcher is seldom straight and true. Still: Three in two months?

We stipulate that Jenkins didn’t arrive with quite the same close-to-the-majors billing as Matt Wisler or Aaron Blair. He was the ride-along in the first Shelby Miller trade — the one to get Miller, not dispatch him — and the Braves liked his arm. They still do. But we’ve just seen why his promotion to the majors was as a reliever: He’s essentially a fastball/changup guy.

According to Brooks Baseball, he threw 694 four-seamers, two-seamers and changeups in his 49 1/3  big-league innings. He threw 134 curveballs — he has one; the issue is controlling it — and 20 sliders. Generally speaking, you need three reliable pitches to make it as a starter.

On his first time through the order, he threw his four-seamer 53 percent of the time; the third time around, he threw it 34 percent, having increased his changeup usage from eight percent to 27 percent. On that third time, assuming he made it that far, opponents hit .600 against his curve.

The first time through, opponents’ OPS versus Jenkins was 1.042, which is bad. The second time was better — .679. The third was even worse — 1.061. By then, batters had seen what he had and were teeing off. He yielded five home runs on the first and second times through the order; he yielded four on the third.

The final straw actually came on the Nationals’ second time around, though it extended into the third. In the fourth inning Friday, Jenkins — holding a 3-1 lead — yielded eight earned runs on seven hits and a walk. It went thusly: Homer, walk, F-9, single, single, single, single, homer, single.

(Aside: Would you have left a young pitcher in the game after the second homer of what was already a six-hit inning?)

OK. So Jenkins-as-starter didn’t work, even though he had a run of three consecutive quality starts before getting touched for 16 earned runs in eight innings against Washington. He might well be suited to relief. (Though he doesn’t break 95 mph with his fastball, which is the new baseline for relievers.) Were it just Jenkins, pressed into starting service because others had fizzled or been hurt, we’d say, “No big deal.”

But Wisler, who was promising if not overwhelming as a big-league starter last year, got worse the more he worked in Year 2. (Per Baseball-Reference, his ERA as of June 1 was 3.16. As of July 1, it was 4.14. As of July 28, it was 5.16.) Blair, considered almost big-league ready when the Braves acquired him in the second Miller trade, came up in April, was sent back and then recalled — and was awful the whole time. (In 50 2/3 innings, he had 29 strikeouts against 29 walks.)

That three promising pitchers were demoted with apparently healthy arms is good in that they’re not headed for Tommy John surgery, as so many Braves pitchers have been over time. That three promising pitchers were demoted simply because they’d stopped getting people out is worrisome: Was there something the Braves could have done — some mechanical tweak — to keep them at the big-league level?

I’ve mentioned this before, but what success Roger McDowell has had as a pitching coach — and he has had some great successes — has tended to come with guys who’ve been around and can execute a game plan. (Everyone agrees that McDowell is an ace among game-planners.) But planning doesn’t matter if a pitcher’s mechanics are flying off into the ether or if he’s throwing the wrong pitches.

Since McDowell replaced Leo Mazzone after the 2005 season, the Braves have had some excellent starting rotations — and lockdown bullpens, too — while taking only one hotshot prospect and turning him into a big-league No. 1 or No. 2. Julio Teheran is the exception, and his dominance this season came after a wobbling 2015 that saw him relying on his two-seamer, which was always his third-best pitch. (A two-seamer is a sinker. McDowell was a famous sinkerballer.)

Maybe Kris Medlen would have been another prospect-to-ace, but he had two rounds of Tommy John surgery in four calendar years. Brandon Beachy, who was leading the National League in ERA in June 2012, had two TJs in two years. As Will Carroll, a writer who tracks baseball injuries, said last year: “You almost never see a guy having a second Tommy John inside five years, and they had two … What more sign from the heavens do you need?”

Also from Carroll: “They’ve been good at finding them and getting them to (the major-league) level. They’ve had super prospects (such as Tommy Hanson and Mike Minor) — they get there, and then they break … I don’t like to point the finger from outside, but everything’s pointing to Roger McDowell.”

Per Jon Roegele’s invaluable spreadsheet, we note that four players in the Braves’ organization have had the procedure over the past 15 months. One is Zach Becherer, a high schooler the Braves drafted in June knowing he’d just had TJ; another is Paco Rodiguez, who was acquired in the Wood/Peraza/J. Johnson/Avilan trade of last July and was nursing a sore arm even then. (The other two: Reliever Andrew McKirahan, whom the Braves claimed off waivers in 2015, and minor-leaguer Dalton Geekie, a Round 22 pick last year.)

In the era of TJ, four in 15 months — with one and perhaps two being inherited cases — isn’t awful. This could mean that the Braves’ screening and monitoring of deliveries under John Coppolella and John Hart has had some effect. It could just mean that they’ve been lucky. (With Tommy John, nobody knows anything.) The good news is that the Braves, who’ve collected a slew of young pitchers in the past two years, have mostly kept them healthy. Knock on wood.

The less-glad tidings: So far, the Braves haven’t found a starting pitcher who has proved he can stick in a rotation. (Mike Foltynewicz has the stuff, but his pitch counts run so high — over 100 in seven of his past eight starts, the exception being a 99-pitch game — that he rarely works past the sixth inning.) Granted, it’s early days. We haven’t seen Sean Newcomb or Touki Toussaint or Max Fried or Kolby Allard or Mike Soroka, to say nothing of Ian Anderson and Joey Wentz or Kyle Muller. All hope is not yet lost.

As Hart said last summer, quoting the baseball adage regarding pitchers: “You need 10 to get three.” As it stands, we can’t say for sure that the Braves have found even one.

Further reading: Andruw Jones belongs in a bigger Hall of Fame. (Meaning Cooperstown.)

Reader Comments 0

24 comments
nightpanther1969
nightpanther1969

As far as Tyrell Jenkins is concerned, this kid can pitch, & I hope that the Braves don't give up on him. He will get better as time goes on, same for Wisler & the others. It is time for the Braves to get a new pitching coach. Just my opinion & no disrespect to anyone else.

SebGuy
SebGuy

I use to defend Jenkins but he is awful-just like Blair. Wisler and Folty are head cases who will hopefully get it together.

WhopperDawg
WhopperDawg

They rolled really big dice and in some ways they had to. But when you roll the big dice, you have to make correct decisions to dig out of the hole.


I am not sure that has happened.

HokeSmyth
HokeSmyth

The launch of Kansas State's women's program leaves the ACC's Georgia Tech as the only school in Power 5 conferences that doesn't have a varsity women's program.


Just 29 of the 65 Power 5 schools have men's programs.

Gman84
Gman84

Prospects always have a high failure rate. That is why many aren't hyperventilating about how great the Braves are going to be in 2 years. 


The 'brain-trust' actually has done a ton of stupid things during this rebuild. Anybody could tear a team down like this....the build-up is far,far from assured. 

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

@Gman84  Absolutely correct -- the Braves biggest problems are ownership and the decision makers in the FO

gulfwavesgary
gulfwavesgary

Remember before this season started, The Braves were picked to have the worst pitching staff in the Major Leagues. So it is. I am really surprised that the Braves hitting has turned around so much. This gives Mr Coppy and Mr Hart a chance to trade productive players for more pitching prospects. These two would make Typhoid Mary look like a hall of famer. I have zero confidence is these 2.

DrTruth
DrTruth

Why all the shock & awe?  These are prospects.  They have always been prospects and will always be prospects until they prove otherwise.  That's what a major league farm system is full of....prospects.  This is what so many of you have cheered for.


The Braves prospects include draft picks, injury rehabs, castoffs from other teams and at least one former PED user.  Most of them will be cut or traded before they even get to the show.  This is why you have to wait YEARS to see who, if anyone, floats to the top and then stays there.


Blair was the 39th best prospect in baseball when acquired, according to Keith Law.  Baseball America ranked Wisler as the 34th best prospect at the start of 2015.  Fox Sports had Jenkins ranked as the Braves #12 prospect when called up in June.  This story doesn't even mention the relief pitchers that have come up and subsequently disappeared this season.


The hard truth is most of these kids aren't tearing it up in A and AA.  So if prospect flameouts make you queasy, you'd best turn your head for the next couple of years because these certainly won't be the last.

Big Wally
Big Wally

It's ok, Buck Belue says that Glavine and Smoltzie struggled their first year to two, so I guess that automatically means that every pitcher who struggles their first year or two will become a Hall of Fame pitcher.

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

@Big Wally  Smoltzie was quite good in his second yr and Glavine was quite good in his second full yr -- none of these guys are Glav and Smoltz -- they are not even Steve Avery before injuries

GaLatino
GaLatino

Sadly, this was my concern all along:  none of the pitching talent they've "stockpiled" projects as top-of-the-rotation starters in the bigs.  We're loaded with essentially a bunch of 3rd and 4th starters in the league, and the only way we'll turn that into a bat is if one of them overachieves in the next year and entices another team to overpay, which admittedly is one of Coppy and Hart's few strengths as a FO tandem.

We_Will_Get_Fooled_Again
We_Will_Get_Fooled_Again

The lack of development we've seen from the young starting pitching this year has been disappointing. It's too early to write any of these guys off, but the truth is, pitching prospects are much more likely to be the second coming of Jo-Jo Reyes or Kyle Davies than they are to be the next Tom Glavine or John Smoltz. The longer these kids struggle, the more unlikely it is that they'll ever end up being anything more than footnotes in the history of the major leagues.

Folty's the only young arm I feel good about this point. I was never high on Wisler, and Jenkins will probably never miss enough bats to survive as a major-league starter. I still like Blair, but his stock has fallen dramatically this year.

Let's hope the next wave of pitching prospects coming up is dynamite, because it's fair to say this crop has been underwhelming.

Bogey
Bogey

It's been discussed at length that the very best young arms in the Braves system are the newest acquisitions: Allard, Newcomb, Touissant, Povse, Soroka, Fried, Anderson and Wentz, just to name a few.

This makes sense because primarily they've been either drafted or traded for while they were in A ball or lower. TOP arms in AAA just weren't available in any of the trades we made (except Shelby) for two reasons: teams just won't give them up as EVERY team is constantly searching for pitching, and secondly the players we traded (JHey and Upton) were rental players on the verge of FA.

Hard to do, but fans have to show patience - it takes years to develop a top pitching staff, and Coppy is only 1.5 years into this rebuild.

I like Folty's arm, but within a couple years he'll be in the 'pen - with only 2 viable pitches he won`t last as a starter.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@Bogey

"Hard to do" indeed.

You want patience, after only ONE championship in over half a damn century--and that ONE more than two decades ago?!

That request rings hollow as hell!

DawgNole
DawgNole

@UWreckMeBaby

That's exactly right, and I'm sure as hell not dumb enough to suggest that Dawg fans have "patience" about it.

Get my drift?

FreeAgentFan
FreeAgentFan

@Bogey  Coppy is an idiot who is an insult to a baseball executive -- so is Hart

DAWGnGA
DAWGnGA

This is exactly what I said 3 days ago. Like Leo or not, he developed young pitchers and almost never had arm problems,

Bogey
Bogey

For example: Avery, Hampton, Lightenberg, Smoltz (more than once), Moylan, and more that I can't recall off the top of my head.

Leo WAS very good, but his legacy is certainly helped by 3 Cy Young/ HOF'ers trotting out every few days. And Maddux's and Glavine's durability were remarkable. Think there's any connection between that and the fact they rarely threw over 90 MPH? Baseball and pitching have changed.

jmccoy1252
jmccoy1252

Leo never got the credit he right deserves.  My question is this:  Why isn't Leo in the Brave's Hall of Fame?  He deserves to be in there more than Don Sutton, that's for damn sure. 

DrTruth
DrTruth

@jmccoy1252 Ask Schuerholz and Cox.  Surely they could've made it happen by now.

ErnestB
ErnestB

Could this be a result of 'underwhelming' pitching coaching in the minor leagues?  I'd hire Leo Mazzone in a minute to be a roving minor league pitching instructor.  Listening to him on the radio lately it sounds as though he may be angry that he has not gotten any calls.


Along the same lines, what is the status of our hitting coaches in the minors.  The plate discipline of hitters seem to get worse over time.

Jdub2500
Jdub2500

Unfortunately you are right on the money. I've never been concerned with the abundance of pitching prospects vs. the absence of hitting prospects. I always figured they could find which pitchers they wanted to keep and trade the others for some MLB-ready hitters. However, as you stated, they have yet to find a pitcher that is MLB ready to be even a 4th starter. This is a bit troubling. Hopefully some of the younger guys will be a bit more talented and not as rushed as Blair/Wisler/Jenkins were. Maybe 1 of the 3 can even turn it around. That would be great. Until then, we'll have to set our hopes on what we've been clinging to for the past two years...prospects are on the way.